Now into its fifth year, the 2017 Blackboard & VLE Awards competition has seen an increasing number of courses supported by exemplary use and design of their virtual learning environment. This year’s awards event featured a mix of familiar and new faces: some staff recognised for the consistently high quality of support they provide for students online each year, and others representing modules where new developments in the VLE have helped transform their course delivery.
Narrowing down the selection of courses to four overall winners becomes more challenging each year, but after much deliberation the panel (including iSolutions staff, an Associate Dean for Education and a student representative) chose the following as this year’s award winners:
SOES2017 Ecological Processes in the Marine Benthos
(Laura Grange and Martin Solan)
Ecological Processes in the Marine Benthos set a new record for the number of nominations received by a single course, with students praising the way Blackboard built on lecture content in “innovative ways” that “fit seamlessly” with lecture materials.
Resources are well presented, with images supporting a clear layout and helpful context throughout. Students value the way announcements are used to summarise important parts of the lectures and prepare them for the next session, and there are opportunities for them to ask questions through the discussion forum, including a revision session run in this way.
Sessions are followed by interactive activities created in Articulate Storyline. Students describe these as “an absolutely amazing way to revise” and “a really helpful way of clarifying and solidifying my knowledge outside of the lectures”.
Blackboard is also used to support a creative approach to assessment, with students recording group presentations to Panopto, alongside the lecture recordings.
ECON2002 Macroeconomic Policy 2
A student commented that Macroeconomic Policy 2 “has the best layout and most information provided out of any module I have ever seen” and the panel were impressed by the exceptional clarity of purpose and design throughout the module.
Clear menu headings and a consistent layout for each topic allow students to “instantly access information required without having to guess where it is”. Activities are provided to prepare students for taught sessions, along with outline lecture slides in editable pdf format. Lectures are followed up by online quizzes to reinforce learning.
As well as lecture recordings, students have access to a range of problem sets for practice, and receive marks for some of these through Blackboard’s Grade Centre. Support for further study is included throughout with links to resources accompanied by helpful guidance, and the ‘Ask the Lecturer’ discussion forum is well used. Feedback is sought and shared through the course.
MANG1016 Placement Preparation
(Rob Jack and Riikka Kemppainen)
After winning in the staff-nominated category last year, Placement Preparation has been further developed in response to student feedback, resulting in its success in this year’s student nominations. This online course is ideally structured to allow students to work through at their own pace, as well as providing specific activities to integrate with face-to-face teaching.
Students comment that the “visually appealing” layout “made it very easy to follow”, and enjoy the videos that give a clear beginning to each lesson. Areas where students identified a need for extra support have been addressed with interactive features such as the skills quiz.
Content is split into manageable sections and students comment it is always “very relevant, well explained with examples and easy to understand”. Each section ends with a quiz to help students assess and revise their learning.
The course is regularly updated with new information and features such as the blog allow students to contribute to this.
ARTD1101 Academic English for Art and Design
(Michael Salmon and Michael Farrelly)
The team behind last year’s staff winner Introduction to English Language have produced another excellent module that is a worthy winner in this year’s student nominations. Using discussion forums as the focal point of the course is a great way of helping the Dalian students practise their English, creating an interactive learning environment and allowing students to contribute content to the course.
Resources throughout are accompanied with helpful guidance from tutors, giving a strong sense of staff presence in the course that is supported by the prompt feedback to discussion posts and the detailed contact information.
Students value the advance availability of materials, allowing them to study through their long winter holiday, and the wealth of resources to help them practise and prepare for exams. The tutors have created engaging videos to help students with aspects of the course, including a sample speaking exam.
For the second year, staff were also encouraged to submit courses in the self-nominated category. This brought to light further examples of excellent online provision, with the panel choosing the following winning course in this category:
MEDI6119 Introduction to Human Genetics and Genomics
(Rebecca Poole and Bobbi Moore)
This year’s staff winner, Introduction to Human Genetics and Genomics, also featured strongly in the student nominations with students commenting that it “succeeded in bringing a diverse group of students together, with a wide range of information which was stimulating and interesting and to the point.”
The menu is well structured with a logical progression through the content, and detailed advice is included throughout to guide students through the course. Students are given a range of pre-learning activities to choose from, depending on their prior knowledge. Resource provision is comprehensive with lecture slides accompanied by links for further reading and embedded Panopto recordings.
The discussion forum is used to develop the community of students as well as to support learning, and the interactive virtual patient resource is a valuable addition to the range of formats offered.
As ever, the awards provide a great opportunity to share examples of good practice, along with the valuable feedback students give in their comments. Over the coming months, we will be sharing links to resources and details of follow-up events.